A surprising successor for Alex Trebek emerged — and then came the backlash
For seven months, ‘Jeopardy!’ did its best to adapt to a world without Alex Trebek, cycling through a rotation of 16 guest hosts
For seven months, “Jeopardy!” did its best to adapt to a world without Alex Trebek, cycling through a rotation of 16 guest hosts — everyone from “Jeopardy!” legend Ken Jennings to NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers to “Big Bang Theory” actress Mayim Bialik to “Reading Rainbow” star LeVar Burton.
Mike Richards, the executive producer of “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune,” said Trebek’s successor would likely stem from this list of guest hosts, although the show wouldn’t be rushing to make a decision.
“We’re going to look at the guest hosts, we want to see how the community reacts, how people feel,” Richards told USA Today earlier this year. “It’s not like I’ve got the person and I’m just holding them back. We’re legitimately looking at some of these (guest hosts), and some of them are just there for charity and to show their love of the game.”
So when Variety recently broke the news that Richards was in “advanced negotiations” to become Trebek’s successor, the moment drew comparisons to Dick Cheney, who famously led George W. Bush’s vice presidential search before assuming the position himself.
“The Dick Cheney approach: We searched high and low and it was ME all along,” tweeted Hank Stuever, senior editor of The Washington Post’s Style section.
How Mike Richards became a front-runner for ‘Jeopardy!’ host
So how did Richards get to this point?
Yes, he did have a two-week stint as guest host, and his ratings were fairly high — second only to Jennings’ six-week run as the inaugural guest host, the Deseret News reported. But the news that he was a front-runner for the permanent gig still came as a surprise to many fans, and even created some backlash.
To begin with, there were fan favorites like Jennings, the “Jeopardy! Greatest of All Time” champion who had the highest ratings of all the guest hosts, the Deseret News reported. And then there was Burton, who got the chance to guest host largely thanks to a fan petition that garnered more than 260,000 signatures.
Furthermore, Richards had also initially purported that his stepping in as guest host was a somewhat last-minute move, according to Claire McNear, of The Ringer. There had reportedly been a conflict in the guest host schedule, and as executive producer, Richards was simply stepping in to fill a need.
“I didn’t know I was going to be doing it until three days before, and so I had not prepared myself to host in the way that I know other guest hosts are,” Richards told USA Today. “So there was just a lot to unpack. Plus, I also only owned one suit, so there was a little bit of scrambling there.”
During his debut game as “Jeopardy!” host, Richards stated that it was his job as executive producer to follow the mantra “the show must go on,” the Deseret News reported.
“So let’s do what Alex Trebek did 8,244 times: Let’s play ‘Jeopardy!’ and prove that nothing can stop this show,” Richards said at the start of his first episode.
By that logic, Richards wasn’t really at the forefront of the search for a new “Jeopardy!” host. Many “Jeopardy!” fans, though, were satisfied with Richards behind the hosting lectern, commenting on how easily he seemed to slip into the role, the Deseret News reported.
But according to The Ringer, the situation that led to Richards filling in in the first place wasn’t as dire as it seemed.
Sources close to the quiz show told The Ringer that an upcoming host had a small scheduling conflict that the “Jeopardy!” staff and crew could’ve worked around. Instead, Richards reportedly insisted on stepping up and hosting. That incident, combined with Richards’ subsequent statements to the public that he was filling in during an emergency-type situation, “raised some eyebrows internally,” The Ringer reported.
On Monday — just a few days after the news broke that Richards would likely be named as permanent host — Richards released an internal memo to “Jeopardy!” staff stating that the show had not yet made a final decision. He also subtly addressed the Cheney comparison, stating that the ultimate decision was not up to him.
“It is true that I was asked if I would consider hosting the show,” he said in the statement, which was shared on Twitter by McNear, who is the author of the “Jeopardy!” book “Answers in the Form of Questions.”
“I was humbled and deeply honored,” Richards continued. “No final decisions have been made, and discussions with me and other potential hosts are still ongoing. I know I have mentioned this to you all before, but the choice on this is not my decision and never has been. Throughout the search, Sony’s top priority has always been to continue the incredible legacy you and Alex built. As you know, Alex always believed the game itself and the contestants are the most important aspects of the show, and that will continue to be the guiding principle as the decision is finalized.”
Mike Richards on past TV game show disputes
In that same statement to “Jeopardy!” staff, Richards also addressed decade-old discrimination lawsuits from his time as executive producer of “The Price is Right” that have recently resurfaced.
During his time with that show, Richards was reportedly involved in a conflict with former model Brandi Cochran, who claimed she was treated differently after becoming pregnant, being booked less on the show and eventually being fired, Forbes reported. Although Cochran did not name Richards as a defendant, he was named in the case, which was eventually settled out of court, according to Forbes.
Another former model, Lanisha Cole, also sued “The Price is Right” producers, claiming she faced harassment when Richards stopped talking to her, Forbes reported. Cole alleged that Richards would write her notes and give them to other models and staff members to pass on to her. That case was settled in 2013, according to NBC News.
“I want to address the complicated employment issues raised in the press during my time at “The Price is Right” 10 years ago,” Richards said in his statement to “Jeopardy!” staff, which was obtained by Deadline. “These were allegations made in employment disputes against the show. I want you all to know that the way in which my comments and actions have been characterized in these complaints does not reflect the reality of who I am or how we worked together on “The Price is Right.” I know firsthand how special it is to be a parent. It is the most important thing in the world to me. I would not say anything to disrespect anyone’s pregnancy and have always supported my colleagues on their parenting journeys.
“I am very proud of my time on ‘The Price is Right’ and ‘Let’s Make a Deal,’” he continued. “During my tenure, our female cast members welcomed seven beautiful children. We embraced and celebrated each pregnancy and birth both in front of and behind the camera. It was a joy to watch their families grow and highlight their happiness as part of the show.”
When will ‘Jeopardy!’ officially name Alex Trebek’s successor?
“Jeopardy!” is currently on its 16th and final guest host. Sportscaster Joe Buck serves as the host through the season’s last day on Friday, Aug. 13, the Deseret News reported. An announcement regarding Trebek’s official successor will likely come very soon after that — the show’s 38th season is expected to begin in September.
A number of guest hosts have expressed interest in the position, including Jennings, Rodgers, Burton and Bialik, to name a few. On Aug. 5 — a day after news broke about Richards being a frontrunner for host — Burton tweeted that he believed he had won “no matter the outcome.”
I have said many times over these past weeks that no matter the outcome, I’ve won. The outpouring of love and support from family, friends, and fans alike has been incredible! If love is the ultimate blessing and I believe that it is, I am truly blessed beyond measure. 🙏🏾— LeVar Burton (@levarburton) August 5, 2021
“The outpouring of love and support from family, friends, and fans alike has been incredible!” he wrote. “If love is the ultimate blessing and I believe that it is, I am truly blessed beyond measure.”
The decision may not yet be final, but this much is already known: Whoever ends up assuming the role will likely be in it for the long run.
”Let’s make sure we get someone we are going to feel even better about in a decade than we do this year,” Richards told USA Today.